Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Creating fine-art landscapes with historical significance

Travelers along Michigan's 3,288 miles of coastline are frequent admirers of the many historic lighthouses that continue to stand guard. Michigan photographer Richard Thompson has begun a series of enchanting images of these iconic beacons over the past two seasons. "My efforts are faithfully supported by a number of Singh-Ray filters," says Richard.

"Singh-Ray's Reverse Graduated ND filters are invaluable tools for balancing the wide range of light and shadow contrast in low-light landscapes. However, one of the caveats to using ND grads is the inherent darkening effect they can have on objects that rise prominently above the horizon -- in other words, objects like lighthouses set against a bright evening sky. I have found that choosing a camera angle that offers sufficient side light can make a dramatic difference in preserving shadow detail on the subject and giving the overall scene more body. For lighthouse photography, that means thoughtfully considering your moment and point of view.

"Last April, I captured the lighthouse image seen above during a visit to Big Sable Point which is located along the shores of Lake Michigan in Ludington State Park. Having photographed this classic lighthouse before, I had pre-visualized the composition, atmosphere and lighting I wanted for this view facing northwest. With the sun setting slightly southwest in early spring, I knew the light would be favorable. When the weather forecast looked promising, I headed out to Big Sable Point. Cloud cover is usually an important element of composition, but especially so with lighthouse photography. I planted my tripod in the sand and watched with anticipation as clouds drifted into the frame. I fixed a 2-stop Reverse ND Grad in the filter holder and waited for the sun to sink below the clouds and illuminate the tower and tall grasses. As the sun dropped to the horizon, the soft glow and rich color made for a mellow mood that characterized the evening beautifully.

"The following July, I made a return trip to Crisp Point along Lake Superior in Michigan's eastern upper peninsula. The lighthouse at Crisp Point is remotely located roughly 20 miles from the interstate down county back roads that wind through acres of state forest. The summer solstice had just passed, so a sunset in the northwest would offer sufficient side light on the conical white tower for a shot facing west. Hand-holding my 3-stop Reverse ND grad allowed me to gently dodge the filter in front of the lens and selectively cut the light level in the brightest areas of the frame without overly dimming the lighthouse itself. After gauging the results of a few quick exposures, I opted to switch to a 2-stop Reverse ND Grad and sacrifice some of the deeper shades of the sky in order to maintain shadow detail on the tower. Side lighting was an important factor in countering the effect of the filter.

"In August, I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula which is surrounded by Lake Superior. High on my list of activities was a trip to Gull Rock, a remotely located rock reef off the tip of the Peninsula that is host to a lonely old lighthouse with storybook character. Chartering a 41-foot cabin cruiser out of Copper Harbor, the sailing was smooth until rounding the tip of the peninsula. That's when the wind made the going much rougher. To make matters worse, rain clouds were massing in the west and the window of light was shrinking fast on our approach to Gull Rock. I climbed atop the cabin, fixed a filter holder to the lens to free my hands and selected a 3-stop Reverse ND Grad filter. Framing a 3:1 ratio of sky vs. water, I dialed in a fast shutter speed and warmer color temperature, braced myself, and fired away in burst mode. After two brief passes on the south side of the reef, the light began to go flat, but I was confident I had managed a few keepers among the few dozen skewed shots I took. In every take, the Reverse ND Grad worked wonderfully to enhance the dramatic sky without overwhelming the lighthouse."

Richard is determined to continue photographing Michigan's many historic lighthouses -- which number over a hundred. He adds, "In addition to exercising a little patience and carefully choosing the right light and atmosphere, I would say the use of my Singh-Ray filters is the key to maximizing each opportunity." For more information about Richard and to enjoy more examples of his impressive photography, visit his website at richardthompsonphotography.com.

No comments: